How to Use the Instant Pot Basics

Sharing is caring!

Did you get a new Instant Pot (or pressure cooker)? Are you a little intimidated about using it? Or maybe you just want to find out about all the features that the Instant Pot has to offer. Well, whatever the case, I’m here to help with Instant Pot Basics – Pressure Cooking.

The Instant Pot can be a real game changer. It eliminates the need to defrost chicken before cooking. Pasta dishes can be cooked together in one pot. And, it allows for sautéing and browning foods right in the pot before cooking. But first, you need to know the Instant Pot Basics.

Instant Pot Basics Overview

How does a pressure cooker work? 

The Instant Pot is actually a brand of pressure cooker. There are many brands of pressure cookers on the market. In order to fully appreciate pressure cooking, it’s good to know how it works.

A picture of the Instant Pot

A pressure cooker is a sealed pot with a valve that controls the steam pressure inside. As the pot heats up, the liquid inside forms steam, which raises the pressure in the pot. This high pressure steam has two major effects:

  1. Raises the boiling point of the water in the pot. When cooking something wet, like a stew or steamed vegetables, the heat of your cooking is limited to the boiling point of water (212°F). But with the steam’s pressure, the boiling point can get as high as 250°F. This higher heat helps the food to cook faster. 
  2. High pressure forces liquid into the food. The pressure also helps force moisture into the food, which not only helps cook foods faster, but certain foods, like tough meat, get really tender quickly. 

The extra-high heat of the pressure cooker also promotes caramelization and browning. Rarely is food caramelizing when it’s cooking in liquid. But the flavors created in a pressure cooker can be really deep and complex — unlike regular steamed foods. Foods cooked in a pressure cooker, especially meats, just taste better.

The instructional warning label on the Instant Pot

Chicken Chile Verse (Salsa Chicken) recipe:

Instant Pot Key Parts

These are the key parts of the Instant Pot:

  • Sealing lever: A lever at the top of the Instant Pot marked “sealed” and “venting.” It controls the sealing and venting of the pot. During pressure cooking, turn the lever to “sealed.” For quick release, move the lever to “venting.” IMPORTANT: protect yourself when turning the lever to “venting” and ensure the steam is facing away from you and others. I use a long handled spoon to turn the knob.
  • Floating valve: A metal pin, located on the top of the Instant Pot that gauges the amount of pressure within the Instant Pot. When the pin is up, then there is pressure within the Instant Pot. When it is below the lid, the pressure is low. Never open the Instant Pot unless the floating valve has completely dropped.
Instant Pot Basics
  • Sealing ring: A silicone ring, located underneath the lid that allows the Instant Pot to seal. Check that your sealing ring is positioned correctly (see below) every time before operating your Instant Pot.
  • Inner liner/pot: The inner pot in the Instant Pot is a stainless steel pot that sits on a burner. If you use your Instant Pot frequently, you might want to invest in an extra inner pot.
  • Mode or function buttons: The buttons (or knob) on the front of the Instant Pot control the function. To go from one function to another, for example to go from sauté to pressure cooking, press cancel first. An Instant Pot can have up to 15 different functions, though most of them can be performed manually as well.
  • Lid – the Instant Pot lid twists and locks into place. The lid is placed on at an angle, with markings to reflect where it goes, then locks when twisted. You can see below where the arrows line up to show the lid is locked.

Instant Pot’s Key Terms

Here’s some helpful basic terms to know:

  • Natural pressure release: After the cooking cycle, allow the Instant Pot to release the pressure on its own (let it sit) until the Floating Valve completely drops.
  • Quick pressure release: After the cooking cycle finished, manually move the Venting Knob from “sealing” to “venting” to quickly release the pressure inside the pressure cooker. Wait until the Floating Valve completely drops before opening the lid.
  • Sauté: A function that allows for sautéing, browning, and simmering in the Instant Pot.
  • High pressure: High Pressure cooks at 10.2 – 11.6 psi.
  • Low pressure: Low Pressure cooks at 5.8 – 7.2 psi.
  • Pot or Pan in Pot: this method allows you to cook more than one dish separately in the same pot, at the same time. Place the ingredients in an oven-safe container on a rack inside the pressure cooker, separating it from the liquid and/or ingredients directly in the pot.
  • 5-5-5 = High Pressure 5 minutes, Natural Release 5 minutes, Ice Bath 5 minutes. This is primarily used for making hard boiled eggs.

There are many different types of pressure cookers out there. If you are looking to purchase one, my recommendation is to go with the Instant Pot brand for a few reasons:

  • There are more accessories, such as tempered-glass lids, silicone lids, and the availability of replacement parts for the Instant Pot.
  • The Instant Pot uses a stainless steel inner pot which promotes better searing and browning.
  • And, most recipes are based on the functions of the Instant Pot.
  • The slight price difference might not be worth the easier learning curve that comes with the Instant Pot brand.

Another recommendation is to go with the basic model of Instant Pot. The exception is if you’ll be using special features like a yogurt setting. I’ve found that I primarily use the pressure and sauté modes on my Instant Pot. So, purchasing a 12-in-one pot might not be necessary.

Check out a few Instant Pots in person before buying if you’ve never used one. I prefer going into a speciality kitchen store like Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table, so I can ask questions and see a demonstration of the appliance.

Instant Pot Basics

Well, now you know the Instant Pot Basics. How it works, the terms you need to know, and the key parts. So, let’s get cooking!

See the Instant Pot in Action:

Use shredded chicken to make Creamy Chicken Enchiladas

Here are two of my favorite Instant Pot Recipes:

Check out Tips & Hacks, my next post on How to Use the Instant Pot. That’s where I’ve shared my favorite tips and shortcuts for using the Instant Pot. After that, you’ll be pressure cooking like a pro.

My Recommendations

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases
Shop my favorite baking supplies and household items at

I'd love hear what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.